ANThology was one of the first albums I bought when coming into my musical own for the first time around about fourteen years old. It was one of the soundtracks of my adolescence along with albums like By the Way by RHCP, Hybrid Theory by Linkin Park and Toxicity by SOAD. And while ANThology might not be as well-remembered as some of those seminal albums, I still listen to it start to finish and love every track on it.
But Alien Ant Farm have generously decided to share their tour with three other great alt-rock bands, the first of which is Kaleido, a band so proud of their hometown, Detroit Rock City, nobody on the card could mention them without also pinning down their birthplace. Kaleido deserve to hit it big if the strength of the songs they’ve played here are any indication of their overall quality. If some of the rock acts currently bothering the streaming charts are anything to go by, then the kids should absolutely love a band who make the same kind of music, only while not being terrible at it.
Next, we have Sumo Cyco led by the anarchic Skye Sweetnam. This frontwoman is a force of fucking nature. The crowd was only won over by them after she invaded the dancefloor and got to know the crowd intimately. She bombarded the stage and demanded drinks, demolishing security as she went. But she isn’t all antics. She seamlessly veers between ska attitude and Californian death metal drawl. Her vocal versatility gives her an eclectic range that constantly keeps the setlist varied and fresh. She’s the real deal. You might just want to check her out to say you liked her before the mainstream fall in love with her.
But Sumo Cyco are more than just a one-woman show. They have a commanding guitarist and a set of ska-punk sizzlers that, upon hearing them, will house up in your head like noisy squatters refusing to leave until the cops shut them down. I can’t believe it took the crowd so long to get into them, though. For a good ten to fifteen minutes they stood there like statues and I thought the zombie apocalypse had finally come to London and patient zero was inside the Islington Academy. Regardless, Sumo Cyco might be my favourite thing I’ve discovered in 2016 along with biscotti spread and virtual reality porn.
Hed PE had no problems getting the crowd into them, though. Familiarity is everything, it seems. As a band, Hed PE are just old enough to buy booze in their native United States. But no matter how much frontman Jahred claims to have matured, he doesn’t let it show in his performance, thank an ever-present and merciful god. His stage persona is like that friend who does way too many drugs but no one says anything because he’s too damned hilarious when he’s all coked up. You always say friends like that should be in a band, only in Jahred’s case, it’s a good idea.
Their legendary fusion of hardcore punk and gangsta rap is on display in full force and the way the crowd are reacting you’d swear they were headlining. The band have an energy that pulses through the room like a bolt of lightning that pinballs between patrons. It’s easy to see why this band have endured. They know what the crowd want to hear and they bury them in it.
Then we come to the final act, Alien Ant Farm. First, some context. This was the 31st of October. Halloween mother fuckers. And while there were some improvised costumes throughout the night, frontman Dryden Mitchell came to play. I’m not sure who the character was, but it looked like Ramona Flowers from Scott Pilgrim by way of The League of Gentlemen. It was pretty cool but I’m not sure about his boast at looking hotter than the girls from the first two bands, though.
By virtue of the band playing ANThology they open with two of their best and most well-known songs, ‘Courage’ and ‘Movies’. This kicks the gig into fifth gear from the off. The rest of the night is an incredible, juxtaposing mix of chain-rattling guitars and Mitchell’s wistful vocals. When he introduces ‘Attitude’ in tribute to his mother, it strikes you as an all too rare moment of vulnerability from a man in a vocation that often sees its practitioners become prisoners to their own masculinity.
They don’t play ‘Smooth Criminal’ in its proper place on the album. As long-time fans will know, it usually closes out the gig. Finally, it is with a hint of exasperation that they resign themselves to playing the cover that dominated their popularity since it blew up the mainstream charts in ’01. It’s the move of the true professional that, despite their clear distaste for the song, all their animosity disappears as soon as the first bars hit and they see the crowd’s untethered joy at finally hearing it.
I had a great night that saved an otherwise eventless Halloween weekend. I liked every band on that stage and made a couple of discoveries. I’m gonna enjoy scavenging through Spotify and YouTube to find their hidden gems in the morning. But Alien Ant Farm provided a slice of nostalgia that does exactly what good nostalgia does. Makes you feel like you’re a teenager again, without making you relive all the things that made being a teenager horrible.
Photography by Tom Rose